Terrance Gore’s 13th-inning at-bat doomed Cubs

57 Comments

Without Terrance Gore, the Cubs might not have been able to make it through regulation tied. Without Terrance Gore, the Cubs might have been able to make it into the 14th inning.

Gore, who is only on the Cubs’ postseason roster for his speed, played an integral part in the Cubs’ 2-1, 13-inning loss to the Rockies in the NL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. With the Cubs trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth, Gore pinch-ran for Anthony Rizzo, who singled with two outs. Gore promptly stole second base, then came around to score easily on an RBI double to left-center field by Javier Báez. The Cubs might not have been able to tie the game if Rizzo had not been replaced by Gore.

In the bottom of the 13th, after the Rockies hit a trio of singles to break the 1-1 tie to take a 2-1 lead, Gore led off the inning. Gore has been in the majors for parts of five seasons, mostly as a September call-up with the Royals and Cubs. He has taken a grand total of 19 plate appearances despite appearing in 63 games. He has hit .063/.211/.063 but has stolen 27 bases in 31 attempts. Gore’s postseason numbers are even more absurd: he has appeared in eight games but taken no official plate appearances. He swiped four bags in five attempts and scored two runs.

If you’re Gore facing Scott Oberg to lead off the bottom of the 13th inning, you leave the bat on your shoulders the entire time, right? Go up with a wiffle ball bat. That’s mostly what Gore did. He worked the count to 2-2, then appeared to be nicked on his left shoulder by a 96 MPH fastball that ran a bit too far inside. The pitch was a cross-up between Oberg and catcher Tony Wolters and ended up nailing home plate umpire Chris Guccione. Gore was awarded first base, but had to come back after replay review revealed that he was not, in fact, hit by Oberg’s fastball. With a 3-2 count, the bat should never leave Gore’s shoulders. Gore swung and missed at a slider that dove low and outside of the strike zone. Oberg proceeded to strike out Báez and Albert Almora, Jr. to end the game, sending the Rockies to the NLDS.

Oberg has been excellent this year, particularly when it comes to being stingy about walks. After walking 10.4 percent of batters he faced in his first three seasons in the big leagues between 2015-17, he walked only 5.3 percent of batters faced this season. When facing a full count, Oberg threw ball four in six of 32 opportunities, or 18.75 percent. Not great odds, but better odds than Gore and his .063 batting average swinging the bat and hoping for a base hit or forcing a fielding error.

The Cubs had no position players left, so Gore was on his own. If Gore didn’t understand the situation, manager Joe Maddon and his coaching staff should have. They should have given Gore direct orders not to swing the bat.

Is it all Gore’s fault the Cubs are already eliminated from the playoffs? Of course not, as of the 50 Cubs batters who came to the plate, only 11 reached base. 10 were stranded as the club went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Rockies pitching racked up 16 strikeouts. But if Gore were to get on by drawing a walk (or being hit by a pitch), it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that he moves himself into scoring position. He might even be able to get to third base on his own, opening up the possibility for a sacrifice fly, an RBI ground out, or a chance to score on a wild pitch/passed ball. It was a pivotal moment in the game, with a leverage index of 3.53 (an average LI is 1.00). And it’s one Cubs fans will be remembering until spring training begins next year.

This Day in Transaction History: Phillies acquire John Kruk from Padres

John Kruk
Bernstein Associates/Getty Images
4 Comments

John Kruk is one of the more underrated hitters in baseball history. Kruk, who is currently a broadcaster for the Phillies, had a 10-year career during which he hit exactly 100 homers, batted exactly .300, and posted an excellent .397 on-base percentage. In baseball history, there are only 32 members of the admittedly arbitrary 100/.300/.395+ club. Kruk is one of only 10 members of the club that played after 1963. The others: Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramírez, Frank Thomas, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Wade Boggs. Of them, five are Hall of Famers. Trout and Votto will be, and Helton and Ramírez should be.

On this day in 1989, the Phillies made a franchise-altering trade, acquiring Kruk along with infielder Randy Ready from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Chris James. The Padres had just swept the Phillies at home and were hoping to jump into the playoff race. They immediately went into a losing skid, but caught fire at the end of the season, finishing 89-73. However, that wasn’t good enough as the Giants won the NL West with a 92-70 record. James was solid for the Padres, posting a .743 OPS with 11 homers and 46 RBI in 87 games.

Kruk had an interesting but brief major league career with the Padres. His roommate, Roy Plummer, was an armed robber. Kruk was completely unaware of this. In spring training of 1988, the FBI informed Kruk of his roommates’ activities. Kruk feared retribution from Plummer and said that the anxiety affected his baseball performance. In 1988, Kruk batted what was for him a poor .241/.369/.362 with nine homers and 44 RBI over 466 plate appearances.

The Phillies didn’t enjoy immediate success upon Kruk’s arrival in 1989. The club finished the season with a losing record and would do the same in the ensuing three seasons. None of it was Kruk’s fault, though: in aggregate, from 1990-92, he hit .303/.393/.459, earning two All-Star nominations. In this span of time, the only other first basemen to hit above .300 were Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Hal Morris, and Rafael Palmeiro. The Padres had used Kruk both in the corner outfield and at first base, but the Phillies made him a full-time first baseman, which turned out to be a good move.

In 1993, everything came together for the Phillies and Kruk had what was arguably the greatest season of his career. He hit .316, which was actually seven points below his average the previous year, but he drew 111 walks to push his on-base percentage up to .430. Kruk hit third in the lineup, creating plenty of RBI opportunities for Dave Hollins in the clean-up spot, Darren Daulton at No. 5, and the trio of Jim Eisenreich, Pete Incaviglia, and Wes Chamberlain in the No. 6 spot. The Phillies shocked the world in ’93, winning the NL East by three games over the Expos with a 97-65 record. They then dispatched the Braves in six games in the NLCS to advance to the World Series against the Blue Jays.

Kruk was productive in the NLCS, contributing six hits including a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, four walks, five RBI, and four runs scored. But he turned things up a notch in the World Series, registering multi-hit performances in the first three games. He would finish the World Series with eight hits in 23 at-bats along with seven walks, four RBI, and four runs scored. The World Series was winnable for the Phillies as they lost a barnburner Game 4 15-14, and of course, dropped the deciding Game 6 on a World Series-clinching walk-off three-run home run by Joe Carter off of Mitch Williams.

1994 was tough on Kruk in many ways. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in spring training. Knee issues continued to bother him, and then Major League Baseball had a work stoppage. In an abbreviated season, Kruk hit a still-productive .823 OPS. He became a free agent and, when baseball came back, he signed with the White Sox. In the first inning of a July 30 game against the Orioles in ’95, Kruk singled to left field off of Scott Erickson. He reached first base, bowed to the fans, and walked off the field into retirement. Kruk told the media, “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”

Kruk has spent his post-playing days working in sports media as both a broadcaster (Phillies, ESPN nationally) and as a commentator (The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Baseball Tonight). The Phillies inducted him into their Wall of Fame in August 2011. One wonders if Kruk hadn’t been bit by the injury bug, and if there hadn’t been a work stoppage, if he might have been able to accrue some more numbers to have a borderline Hall of Fame case. Regardless, he’ll go down as one of the games’ quietly great hitters.